Cameras and software for distributing video across a LAN or WAN

The more I test Windows NT video solutions, the more the assortment of products on the market impresses me. This month I tested Cisco Systems' IP/TV intranet video-distribution software and two very different color digital video cameras: Connectix's Color QuickCam 2 and Toshiba's IK-M28.

IP/TV 2.0 leverages Cisco's extensive network and routing experience to provide a truly enterprise video-distribution solution. The Connectix and Toshiba cameras prove that those companies know how to do video for the NT platform.


IP/TV 2.0
Cisco's IP/TV 2.0 is a LAN-based solution for distributing video, audio, and PowerPoint slides across your network. The IP/TV solution includes three distinct components: IP/TV Server, IP/TV Content Manager, and IP/TV Viewer. You can run the IP/TV software only on an IP-based network. Cisco recommends that your network have Domain Name System (DNS) resolution, but you don't need DNS resolution to use IP/TV.

Unlike Microsoft's NetShow Services, IP/TV doesn't work across Internet dial-up connections. IP/TV specifically targets WAN and LAN implementations.

IP/TV Server. The machine that runs IP/TV Server is a repository for all the video, audio, and still-image data you distribute across your network. You must add a Moving Pictures Experts Group-1 (MPEG-1) encoding card to your server to distribute realtime video streams from videocassette recorders (VCRs) or camcorders across your network. (If you use an MPEG-1 encoding card, you must install and configure the MPEG-1 card before you install the IP/TV Server software.)

Cisco recommends the FutureTel PrimeView II Combo MPEG-1 encoding card, so I installed one on my test IP/TV server. You use one audio cable and one video cable to connect a standard VCR to the back of your video server's full-length ISA card this connection lets you broadcast video that the VCR plays across your network in realtime. The encoding card encodes the video in MPEG-1 format, which produces a 352 * 240 display and uses roughly 1.2 megabits per second (Mbps) of network bandwidth. IP/TV Server can digitize and store a video on the server's hard disk while you encode and distribute it. In addition to the MPEG-1 codec (coder-DECoder), IP/TV supports Intel's Indeo Video 5.04 and Precept's H.261 codecs through Microsoft's ActiveMovie architecture, and supports Intel's Indeo Video 3.2 and Microsoft's (formerly VXtreme's) Web Theater codecs through Microsoft's Video for Windows.

Video content is generally very large (often larger than 1GB). Therefore, Cisco recommends that administrators who will use IP/TV to distribute video streams connect numerous hard disks to their IP/TV server or dedicate a cabinet of hard disks to video content. If you follow this advice, you need to use NT Server's RAID tools or a RAID controller card to configure the hard disks as one drive before you install the IP/TV Server software. IP/TV recognizes only one hard drive per server for on-demand content. Cisco recommends using hardware-accelerated RAID 0 with SCSI hard disks to ensure high performance.

IP/TV is a great enterprise solution. The IP/TV server transmits video streams via a range of formats: multicast, Video on Demand (VoD), or live encoding. (For more information about types of video transmissions you can play across a network, see the sidebar "Video Distribution," page 88). You can limit the amount of bandwidth IP/TV streams consume so that if the video server receives an unusually high number of requests for VoD streams, the video transfers won't hobble your network. IP/TV also saves bandwidth by monitoring which nodes request video streams and broadcasting to only those nodes. If no clients request a scheduled program, the IP/TV server doesn't broadcast the video stream, but it does track the stream's progress via a timestamp.

When a client requests an audio or video stream, IP/TV Content Manager delegates the broadcast to the server that has the most bandwidth available. An upcoming release of IP/TV will enhance this capability with proximity awareness IP/TV Content Manager will determine which server provides clients broadcast streams by evaluating servers' traffic levels and their proximity to the client. To facilitate distribution of content among servers, IP/TV Server includes Cisco's FTP Server application.

IP/TV Content Manager. You use the IP/TV Content Manager to coordinate the distribution of video, audio, and slide streams. (Slides require a separate IP/TV server.) IP/TV Content Manager comprises several applications, including a Java Web server, Perl, and FTP Server.

IP/TV Content Manager lets users with administrative privileges configure when, how, and how often IP/TV content is available to users and which servers hold which content. IP/TV Content Manager lets you schedule multicast transfers and FTP file exchanges between servers, use passwords to restrict access to IP/TV content, make content available on an on-demand basis, and track who accesses which information and when they access it. IP/TV Content Manager also provides descriptions of available programming to IP/TV end users and points clients to the server that can best provide the content they request. When a server begins transmitting a stream to a viewer, IP/TV Content Manager has completed its role in the transmission process.

You need to install IP/TV Content Manager and IP/TV Server on separate machines. Running both programs on the same system reduces the system's functionality. You configure IP/TV Content Manager by accessing the software through any Web browser. You use IP/TV Content Manager to define most of your network's parameters. The main IP/TV Content Manager interface has eight icons: OnDemand Programs, Scheduled Programs, Channels, Recordings, File Transfers, Servers, ServerWatch, and Preferences, as Screen 1 shows.

You use the OnDemand Programs and Scheduled Programs icons to enter new programs into the list of available broadcasts, edit existing program information, set password authorization, and set the times that each video is available. You use the Channels icon to create a menu of broadcast titles.

The Recordings utility lets you define the parameters for your IP/TV servers' audio and video recordings you can define the filename, source, server, and times at which IP/TV records each audio or video segment. You can configure the software to record at a specific time on a specific day. IP/TV uses date and time information to generate unique filenames for successive recordings.

The File Transfers utility coordinates the distribution of content among IP/TV servers. You can schedule content distribution to suit your organization's needs, transferring IP/TV files between servers only during off-peak hours. You select the Servers icon to see a centralized database of all the servers your IP/TV network recognizes the database includes Multicast Backbone (MBone) servers.

If you select the Preferences icon, IP/TV Content Manager opens a window that contains most of the core settings for your IP/TV implementation. In the Preferences window, you define your IP/TV servers' multicast addresses, define the video and audio formats your system supports, limit the network bandwidth that on-demand requests consume, and limit the number of concurrent recordings and file transfers.

IP/TV Viewer. End users can receive multiple broadcasts simultaneously through the IP/TV Viewer or through Netscape Navigator 3.x or later or Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 3.x or later. (You must install the plugins that come with IP/TV to use Navigator or IE to view IP/TV broadcasts.) I ran four concurrent streams on an Intergraph Computer Systems TDZ 2000 ViZual Workstation, which has dual 333MHz Pentium II processors, as Screen 2 shows. The four transmissions consumed 80 percent to 90 percent of my CPUs' power and 90MB of RAM.

Users can customize the IP/TV Viewer toolbar. However, I didn't find any reason to customize any of the IP/TV interfaces. All the interfaces have straightforward and intuitive designs. I was pleased to find that all the IP/TV interfaces extensively support right-clicking. A particularly nice feature of the IP/TV Viewer is that the software lets you remove the video window from the Web interface and run the video through a separate window. You can use your Web browser while you watch an IP/TV video.

If you need to implement distributed video throughout your organization, whether your network includes 10 computers or 10,000 computers, IP/TV suits your needs. The server and network-management tools provide all the functionality you need to make this solution work. The software's realtime encoding and distribution are impressive, and IP/TV is easy to use compared with other video solutions.

IP/TV 2.0
Contact: Cisco Systems 800-553-6387
Web: http://www.cisco.com/iptv
Price: $6500 (includes IP/TV Server, IP/TV Content Manager, and 20 IP/TV Viewers)
System Requirements: 133MHz Pentium processor (200MHz processor required for VXtreme live encoding), Windows NT Workstation or NT Server, 32MB of RAM for NT Workstation 64MB of RAM for NT Server, 2GB or larger RAID array for IP/TV Server, Sound Blaster-compatible audio card (16-bit sound card recommended) for IP/TV Server and IP/TV Viewer

Color QuickCam 2
Color QuickCam 2 is the latest in Connectix's QuickCam series of spherical cameras. Connectix was one of the pioneers of digital video cameras for PCs, and the company remains one of the most popular vendors in this market.

The Color QuickCam 2 connects to your machine's parallel port and Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) connector. You need to power down your system to install the camera. The Color QuickCam 2 comes with a pass-through cable for your keyboard so you can use the keyboard after you install the camera. The Color QuickCam 2 doesn't provide a pass-through cable for the printer, so if you don't use a network printer, you must power down your computer and switch cables to print.

Before you install the camera, you must enter your system BIOS and switch your parallel port setting from the unidirectional Normal or AT setting to the Enhanced Capabilities Port (ECP) or the Enhanced Parallel Port (EPP). You must also download the Color QuickCam 2 software's NT drivers from the Connectix Web site because the installation CD-ROM that accompanies the camera doesn't currently include them.

I tested the Color QuickCam 2 on my Intergraph TDZ 2000. I inserted the installation CD-ROM, downloaded the executable drivers file (cqc211nt.exe) from the Connectix Web site, and ran the executable file. The software installed without a hitch. Two programs operate the camera: QuickMovie, which records video images, and QuickPICT, which records still images.

Capturing video is a processor- and memory-intensive task, especially when the video includes audio, which Color QuickCam 2 videos do. However, I did not expect the camera to require as large a percentage of my resources as it used. Running the QuickMovie software used roughly half my processing power at the smallest available display size, 160 * 120. When I began capturing video, the image froze. I couldn't see what the camera was recording, and the software used two-thirds of the TDZ 2000's processing power. The QuickMovie software consumed about 50MB of the machine's RAM. When I used the Color QuickCam 2 to capture full-screen or half-screen video, QuickMovie used 100 percent of my CPU resources and produced noticeably choppy videos. Oddly, though, the larger windows didn't freeze.

The camera's controls adjust hue, brightness, zoom, sharpness, color (Thousands VIDEC, Thousands Uncompressed, Millions, 256 Colors, or 256 Grays), image rotation, and mirroring. The camera's brightness auto-adjustment works very well. You can set the camera to sample different areas of the frame your options are Entire Frame, Center Weighted, and Center Only. The Color QuickCam 2 is very easy to use, even for beginners. For entry-level video, the Color QuickCam 2 is hard to beat, but I would like it more if it offered a pass-through printer cable and wasn't such a resource pig.

IK-M28
Toshiba's IK-M28 is at the opposite end of the spectrum of PC-compatible color digital video cameras. The IK-M28 is Toshiba's flagship desktop-PC video camera. The camera requires an AC adapter and video-capture card. For my tests, I purchased the lowest-priced video-capture card I could find, Winnov's Videum VO ISA. This ISA card cost me around $100, and it came with all the software necessary for capturing, manipulating, and saving images. I used the Videum VO's software to test the IK-M28 because the camera doesn't come with software.

The IK-M28 package contains only the camera and two cables. The camera produces NTSC video output, offers auto white balance, and rests on an adjustable pedestal with a good range of side-to-side and up-and-down motion. You rotate a thumb-wheel that encircles the lens to focus the camera. The lens produces an amazingly sharp image. A sliding lens cover protects the lens when it is not in use.

Because no software comes with the IK-M28, the camera doesn't require setup or installation other than plugging in the AC adapter and running a standard video cable between the capture card and camera. I installed the Videum VO card and IK-M28 camera on my TDZ 2000. I captured a video with a resolution of 320 * 240 the capture used 76MB of RAM and roughly 12 percent of the computer's processing power.

I like the image that the IK-M28 produces, and I really like the camera's low resource consumption, although I attribute the camera's light processor use to the Videum VO card. However, I don't like the camera's AC adapter requirement, which adds another plug to my power strip.

However, the IK-M28 is a great camera, and I can't say enough nice things about the Videum VO card. It did everything it was supposed to do, and it was cheap.

I can't compare the Connectix and Toshiba cameras. They are very different cameras for different markets and different uses. Which will work best for you depends on what you need the camera to do and the size of your budget.

Color QuickCam 2
Contact: Connectix 800-231-7717
Web: http://www.connectix.com
Price: $199 (with an $80 rebate)
System Requirements: Pentium processor or better, 16MB of RAM, CD-ROM drive

IK-M28
Contact: Toshiba 714-461-4984
Web: http://www.toshiba.com/taisisd
Price: $149
System Requirements: Video-capture card that supports NTSC video output